Interview: Comedian Tiff Stevenson on how to own Piers Morgan
Stevenson talks about her political journey, taking on your enemies - and parallels between Donald Trump and Bridget Jones.
Winston Churchill is often incorrectly attributed with coining the phrase “If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”
For comedian Tiff Stevenson the volatile atmosphere surrounding politics, as an unrepentant left clashes with an insurgent right, is fast tracking her journey through to a straight as an arrow centrist.
The 38-year-old is touring her aptly named seventh stand-up show, Seven. It was inspired by a gig she performed at film director David Lynch’s Paris nightclub, Silencio, in October 2015. There she struck up a conversation with Jesse Williams, the lead singer of Eagles of Death Metal. A month later, the band was performing at the Bataclan Theatre as terrorists stormed the venue on 13 November, killing 89 people. Stevenson’s initial reaction was to reflect on her own connection to the atrocity. This human instinct of contextualising events to your own experience forms the nucleus of her routine.
“It’s an exploration of that, like why do we feel to make these huge worldwide events about us by making it about me,” she says. “What do you write after this? Do you say ‘in my thoughts and prayers’ – and I thought well that would be disingenuous because I’m not religious. Also ‘my thought’s’, ‘my prayers’, suggests that they’re more important than anyone else’s. Do you try and make a joke, is that the wrong time to try and make a joke. So it’s how we respond to these things.”
The show delves into issues surrounding vanity, morality, modernity and of course, Donald Trump. The US President has been good for trade, insofar as comedians and admittedly journalists are concerned. Stevenson is looking to delve deeper beyond the inflammatory policies and rhetoric to Trump’s “narcissism”. She also has a theory on how the Donald could have been brought down a peg or two growing up.
“I think if Donald had spent more time around his Scottish mum we might not have ended up with him being leader of the free world,” she says. “I have a Scottish father and a Scottish boyfriend and whenever I’m feeling good about myself I just stand next them, and they’ll knock that out of you.
“There’s no one who’ll ever love you more, but let you know less. That pretty much sums up Scottish people,” she adds with a cackling laugh.
It was opening the Pandora’s Box that is Trump’s previous tweets that Stevenson stumbled across a theme. She noticed parallels between the property mogul and that of the character, Bridget Jones. So, naturally, she merged the two and created Bridget Trump’s Diary (trading at @BRIDGETTRUMPSD1 on Twitter), which currently enjoys nearly 8,400 followers.
“I was looking at his tweets and thinking these are beyond parody, and then saw one and thought this is less presidential and more like something out of Bridget Jones’ Diary. I then did a few of them, and then I was like, wow it’s remarkable how little we have to change,” she says.
“They have a lot in common in that they’re both always chasing the wrong men. In that world Putin is a Daniel Cleaver character, Mark Darcy is Nigel Farage…”
We speak as social media celebrates an attack on Trump’s cheerleader-in-chief, Piers Morgan, who was promptly told to fuck off during an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher by fellow guest, Jim Jefferies. The incident was greeted warmly by vast swathes of internet users opposed to Morgan’s unapologetically abrasive defence of Trump. But Stevenson, no fan of the TV presenter herself, believes this is symptomatic of a wider, disconcerting trend on the left, to which she is beginning to distance herself from.
“I don’t think the left has necessarily won when someone tells Piers Morgan to fuck off on a chat show. There was such an amount of ‘didn’t he get owned’,” she says.
“Owning someone is not telling them to fuck off. It’s taking apart their ideology and showing them how they’re wrong. That could easily have been done, they were talking about the Muslim ban in America, that could have been done but it wasn’t. So I do think that this kind of stuff doesn’t move us forward.
“I can understand the frustration when you see people are being vitriolic and full of hatred. But I am finding myself increasingly less aligned to the left I guess in the last couple of years, and in the middle going, ‘guys, seriously’.”
Stevenson has appeared on a slew of TV shows, from Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Mock the Week through to Russell Howard’s Stand Central. She has also appeared on political shows such as ITV’s Peston on Sunday and Radio 4’s Broadcasting House. To fans of the Office, she played Lorna in the episode New Girl.
Her shows often explore how “the voices we hear are the ones that scream the loudest”. She also laments a trend on the left and right of shouting down those who hold contrary opinions, and criticises the media for creating a culture whereby only certain groups of people are seen as valid to comment on issues from feminism, Brexit or religion.
Channelling her inner Tony Blair, Stevenson longs for a “third way” where the “reasoned middle” come through and go “no, we’re just not going to listen to this lunatic rhetoric”. Comedy, she adds, could form part of a counter culture to the permanently outraged dichotomies of the political spectrum.
As for her own political journey, Stevenson feels somewhat lost.
“I don’t even think I’m conservative, I just don’t find myself aligned with what’s happening on the left. I don’t find myself aligned with what’s happening on the right. I find myself in the middle going ‘help’.”